U.S. Still Won't List Jerusalem as Israel's Capital on Official Docs, Passports, Maps

State Department: 'Specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations'

The Old City in Jerusalem / Getty Images
December 8, 2017

The United States still will not formally recognize Jerusalem as being located in Israel on official documents, maps, and passports, despite President Donald Trump's announcement earlier this week that America is formally recognizing the holy city as Israel's capital, according to State Department officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the matter.

Despite Trump's declaration, which was formally codified on Wednesday into U.S. policy, the State Department is taking a more nuanced position on the matter, drawing some ire in Congress among pro-Israel lawmakers who accuse the State Department of undermining Trump's efforts.

State Department officials this week had difficulty stating as fact that Jerusalem is located within Israel, instead trying to parse the issue as still subject to diplomatic negotiations.

State Department officials who spoke to the Free Beacon about the situation said that while it supports Trump's declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it is not yet at the point where it will list Jerusalem as part of Israel on passports, maps, and official documents. This means that official documents, such as passports, will not, at this point, list "Jerusalem, Israel" as a place that exists.

The State Department's careful parsing of the issue has already drawn outrage on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are describing this as part of an effort to undermine the Trump White House's clear-cut declaration on the matter.

"The president is the commander-in-chief and America's sole organ when it comes to conducting foreign policy," Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon.  "Article II of the Constitution does not vest this authority in bureaucrats in the State Department."

"The State Department must permit Americans born in Jerusalem to list 'Jerusalem, Israel' on their passports and must follow the logical implications of this historic recognition in other policy areas," DeSantis said. " President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital was the right thing to do and enjoys broad support from the American people; an entrenched bureaucracy has no right to stymie this decision."

A State Department official who spoke to the Free Beacon about the matter made clear that the United States now "recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its seat of government."

However, "the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations," the official said, explaining that the holy city's exact location and placement in Israel proper is still up for debate.

"While we are affirming the current and historic reality of Jerusalem's role as Israel's capital and seat of government, any ultimate determination of sovereignty over Jerusalem will flow from the results of negotiations between the parties," the State Department official explained.

With regards to U.S. passports for Americans born in Jerusalem, there will be no formal change in American policy on the matter.

The issue of listing "Jerusalem, Israel" as a person's birthplace has been a hot button issue over the years, with a case even being adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Americans born in Jerusalem still will not be able to list Israel as the birth nation on their passports.

"There is no change in policy at this time," according to the State Department official. "We will provide any new guidance as and when appropriate."

With regards to official maps and documentation, the State Department is still engaged in a process to figure out how exactly to classify Jerusalem.

"The president is taking a specific step in affirming that the United States believes that Jerusalem has and will continue to serve as Israel's capital—and the U.S. is not backing off efforts towards encouraging the parties to resolve their differences over final status issues in a comprehensive peace agreement," according to the State Department official.

However, the president's declaration is limited in nature and is being reviewed by the State Department as it moves forward.

"The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations," the official said. "The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders."

When asked if official documents will bear the words, "Jerusalem, Israel," the State Department could not provide a concrete answer.

"This is quite a complex issue that we continue to study and work through," the official said.

One senior official at a large, national pro-Israel organization cautioned against viewing the State Department's stance as an effort to subvert Trump's declaration on Jerusalem.

"It's too early to panic," the official, speaking on background, told the Free Beacon. "The administration was focused on getting the broad policy correct and meeting the president's demand that we finally acknowledge the simple reality Jerusalem is Israel's capital."

"Now they're going to take a month to figure out the consequences," explained the official, who has been briefed on the situation. "Implementing pro-Israel fact-based policy is a new thing for some of our diplomats, and many others have forgotten how that works in recent years, so people are willing to give them some time. If at the end of the process nothing has changed, there will be broad criticism - to say nothing of pro-Israel voters around the county who will be bitterly let down."

Published under: Israel , State Department